Castle, Crafts and Super Food. A Taste of Donegal Day 2

Castle, Crafts and Super Food
A Taste of Donegal Day 2
Le Fournil

It is late evening in Donegal town, the tide is out and the crows have wheeled away en masse to their night perches. The marquees in the food village are quiet, the stallholders taking a well deserved break. But it's entirely quiet! A few pink shirted ladies, with Mary right there in the middle, are hard at work near the entrance, sweeping up and making sure everything is ready for the Sunday. Volunteers in uncomplaining action. What would A Taste of Donegal do without them? What would Ireland do without them?

Our day started with another visit to the Food Festival to link up with Eve Anne of the Local Enterprise Office. I was giving a hand with judging the best stall and that gave us another chance to do the rounds, sample some more food and drinks, everything from ice-cream to coffee to beer to various bits of meat to cheese, all the time looking for that little bit extra that would put a stand on the shortlist.
Donegal Castle

We did our bit and met up with Eve Anne to compare notes. The decision was announced on the following day (we were in Mayo by then) and the winners were Le Fournil. This is a French bakery in Donegal town run by Franck Pasquier and they had a terrific display of their aromatic and tasty produce.

It was a fine morning and the crowds kept coming, difficult enough to get parking. If you are going next year, do check the website as they have a long list of parking sites and once you have that info, you’ll be fine.

Fireplace detail in Castle

So after “grazing” our way through the stalls for lunch, we walked the short distance to Donegal Castle and paid the small entrance fee. The castle was built in 1474 by Hugh O’Donnell and destroyed in 1595 by Red Hugh O‘Donnell to prevent its seizure by the British. It was rebuilt around 1614 by Sir Basil Brooke.

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries the majority of the buildings were in ruins but it was almost fully restored in the 1990s and was visited last May by The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, during their official visit to County Donegal. It is an interesting small castle with a number of artefacts in position.

Taste temptations

Perhaps the highlight is the large ornate stone chimney piece in the great hall, installed by Brooke and including the coats of arms of his family and that of his wife’s family. The castle is next door to Magee’s, another Donegal icon. Magee’s are best known for their tweeds and you’ll see some great examples here for both men and women. It is a high quality upmarket store with various departments and brands e.g. Newbridge and Kiltrea.

Out on the Diamond, the sun was shining and the music playing as the kids gathered round for their entertainment, all nice and relaxed with parents and grandparents taking it all in. Indeed, we watched and listened for a a good few minutes - the long queue at the ATM was slow-moving!

McGonigle Glass Studio

Cash in hand, it was time to to collect the car and head a mile or two out of town to the Donegal Craft Village and do some purchasing. There are seven craft shops here, including hand-weaving, Paper Craft, Jewellery/Sculpture, artist, hand felted landscapes. One or two were closed.  One that caught my eye were Michael Griffin’s RAW studio (pieces from ancient boxwoods, very impressive pieces).

Another was the McGonigle Glass Art and Jewellry Studio, and not because it is run by three sisters! “We love colour and we hope this shows in our work!”. It certainly does and it was here that we bought a few of the smaller pieces. This village is well worth a visit and another craft village that we like to visit is the one in Spiddal in Connemara.

Village Tavern, Mountcharles

And, like Spiddal, there is a also a coffee shop here in Donegal. It is called Aroma and is quite popular. We enjoyed our coffees here. On going in to pay, a twenty euro note was the smallest I had in the wallet but their machine was acting up and the man said, rather than holding us up, that we could have the coffee for free. Very nice of him, But not fair to him. So I went back out to our seat and searched through bags and pockets and got the five euro and paid up. He was delighted and we were happy too. Smiles are worth more than euros.

On the way back to our lodgings, we called to Mountcharles to have a drink at the Village Tavern. A couple of bottles of local beer, Kinnegar Devil’s Backbone Amber ale and the Ballyshannon based Donegal Brewery's Blonde, a refreshing drink, quenched the thirsts for us.

Room with a view, Ceol na Mara

Did I tell that our accommodation, Ceol na Mara in Summerhill, has lovely views over the bay. We were back there late in the afternoon and took a walk along by the calm water just as the packed Donegal Bay Waterbus was starting its tour. We could hear the commentary on the shore as it gently headed out with a shadowy Ben Bulben in the background.

We were back in town, alongside the castle, for dinner that evening in the Olde Castle. This is a busy spot but we were comfortable upstairs in the restaurant and I enjoyed my lobster before finishing off a pleasant day, a pleasant stay indeed, with a pint of their own Red Hugh Ale, bottled specially for them in Ballyshannon.

It was off to Ballina, County Mayo, the following morning, after another lovely breakfast at Ceol na Mara.
See also: Food Festival and Amazing Cliffs. Donegal Day 1

Donegal Bay Waterbus